Time for an Honest Conversation with Khan

What if you made somebody’s day just by asking them a question or two?

Khan came to New York 33 years ago.

He’s married.

Now has five kids.

His wife wanted a son.

5th time was a charm.

They live in a 2-bedroom place in Brooklyn.

The kids range from 22-13.

The eldest is studying to be a pharmacist. The second studies criminology. The third is celebrating her 16th birthday. The fourth and fifth (son) are just about a year a part.

The son loves basketball and Michael Jordan. Dad’s not sure where this will all go. But he believes everything will be okay.

Honesty is Khan’s #1 piece of advice to his kids. He believes and tells them that as long as they are honest they will be alright.

Khan makes honest, clean money. It’s important to him.

He thinks New York is a rough place. People are too busy for anything else.

go Go GO.

In the cab. Out the cab. With the coffee. Little more than a hello. Very few people have time for a question, let alone a conversation.

We had a funny moment when I asked him about funny questions that people have asked him.

It took him a little bit, I actually thought he was moving on from the question.

But then he told me about a time seven years ago when he used to drive the evening shift – which he doesn’t do anymore – and a couple asked whether or not they could have sex in his cab.

“Does this look like a hotel to you?” he asked me with a nervous smile.

“Wow.

“Any other questions?” I wondered aloud

He explained he was already embarrassed and too embarrassed to recount other stories.

After a little small talk we arrived at our destination.

Khan got out of the cab, looked me in the eye while he shook my hand, and thanked me for a good conversation.

People don’t have time for conversations these days, I guess.

But I learned a lot about humility, family togetherness (I can only imagine what it must be like to live with 7 people in a 2-room apartment), patience, hard work, honesty, and an ability to go with the flow.

What if you made time for a short conversation with a stranger? Surely you could find some topic of mutual interest.

What if you made somebody’s day just by asking them a question or two?

And what if one of those questions also made yours?

What Did Your Parents Think…?

Prior to my writing Moustaches and Mental Illness, I had started to share with others – some close, some not – about what it was like to be in, and recover from, depression.

Often labeled as the guy who asks a lot of questions and doesn’t share enough about himself (maybe I love learning about others a bit too much?!), these days I have a lot to share.

And these recent conversations have gone to places I did not expect go, with most of the people I’ve spoken with on this topic.

Moving beyond these one on one or small group conversations, since writing, these surprising conversations have continued, the only difference now is that some people have started to share about their relationship with depression without a prompt.

One friend was quite curious what my parents thought of my depression, and of my “seeing someone” for help.

I knew they were supportive and thought it was good, so I told her as much.

But inside I was thinking that my parents and I had spoken about this over Thanksgiving, which was more than a month ago at this point. And besides, with more than a month to let this knowledge set in and and to already see the change in me over the Christmas/New Year holidays, I was curious to hear what they would say now.

So I asked them.

My Mom went first.

She seemed to feel like something might be up. But she didn’t realize how big of an issue it was.

In classic Mom fashion she was glad that I went for help, got help, and it was helpful.

Simple and straight to the point 🙂

She was also proud of me that I had the presence of mind and courage to talk with someone that did not have an emotional investment. That people generally have a hard time doing this, especially when struggling. This was good, she felt.

My Dad echoed these thoughts and was equally surprised I was so depressed.

He also appreciates how open I have decided to be about this, but felt like writing about this here at Finding My Voice Here was a being a bit too open.

He was concerned that people could easily misunderstand my writing.

And make up their own thoughts.

Because what I wrote was very revealing.

He related a conversation from earlier in the day he had with Mom about the blog post. She had thought that my ultimate hope might be able to help other people.

Dad thought he would have found a different way do this. And probably would have chosen a more private route. Because he  would worry about people feeling sorry for him or getting the wrong idea.

That said, he recently attended a talk on social media where the discussion centered on how easy it can be for others to relate to people who are so open.

And it made him feel that he could be more open to sharing – sharing something on the more personal side that could help others.

Ultimately he just felt bad that he couldn’t have been more available to me. And he wished that I could have been more honest with them about how I was feeling. Though surprised that I was feeling this way, he felt like there were some clues along the way. There were some moments where he felt like there was something going on. That they/he could have helped me through this rough time. Maybe he could have been a little more thoughtful? Could have called a bit more? Wrote a bit more?

He appreciated how keenly aware and in touch with my feelings I am these days. But questioned if I could do that with everybody? Or even wondered when one can do that with anybody?

But I told them – and him – how I wished I could have known. I wished I could have told them. The point is, I couldn’t. I had no idea. What I thought and what I felt was masking what was ultimately underneath. And that’s not something I was able to access without help from someone impartial, from the outside.

He responded that he has always stressed the importance of anticipation. And how he’s quite good at this. How could he not have anticipated this?

Again, I said, there was nothing he could have done other than to be himself. And wherever we are today, however we got to today, we’re better for it because we’re together and talking about it now.

This is a new era of openness for me.

I now have access to thoughts and feelings that I did not have before, even though I thought I was a pretty honest, open, thoughtful, and emotional person before my time south of the clouds.

But this goes beyond depression.

Because, as I think about it in this moment, this wasn’t something like, Oh, MCK is so expressive and emotionally open.

Enter depression, stage left.

MCK is depressed for X period of time.

Depression leaves, stage right.

MCK is back to being the guy he used to be.

The depression, despite the challenges it brought, actually turned into a catalyst for me to grow.

It enabled me to move into a new stage in my emotional life and relationships with others, especially those closest to me.

Granted, the activation energy for this catalyst was more than I ever could have imagined. And I had to put in a serious amount of work to release myself from its grasp.

But it’s been worth it.

Because nothing ever truly worth achieving is easy. And in the wake of the greatest struggle can come the sweetest of rewards.

And in this new era of openness, one of the best rewards to date has been reaching a whole new level in my relationship with the people who gave me life.

My parents from the start have provided me (and my sister) with an incredible home and upbringing. They are wonderful teachers and advocates for the both of us. Instilled in us values of hard work, in making a difference in the lives of others, and the importance of contributing to our communities. I could not be more thankful for all the ways they have supported me and continued to support me.

And although I thought I had a very good relationship with each of them before, through sharing these most intimate struggles with them – we’ve put on the table the good, the bad, and the ugly – I feel even closer to them. For this I am so grateful.

None of us are perfect beings. We all have our faults and flaws.

And for all the faults and flaws I struggled with over the past few years, the faults and flaws I was most unable to accept in others were because of the faults and flaws I was unable to accept within myself.

Once I was able to be honest with and accept myself, I had the strength and courage to be extra honest with and accepting of others.

What about you?

What are the faults and flaws of others that you find yourself struggling with the most?

And beyond the frustrations you feel when dealing with them, what do these frustrations tell you about yourself?

And let’s even assume that there’s no need to accept the faults and flaws in yourself in order to accept the faults and flaws in others.

What if you just decided to accept someone for who they are – faults and flaws and all? How might your relationship with them change? How about your relationship with yourself?

I Never Thought a Dog Would…

My Dog Bro Oliver Hangin

I didn’t grow up with a dog. Pets were not a big part of the ecosystem in which I was raised.

When the idea was suggested that a dog would be coming to live with us last summer, and that we would be taking care of it for 3 months, I wasn’t exactly, um, well, thrilled… is the word, I think.

It was presented to me as something to discuss. But it was never to be a discussion. It was a unilateral decision. Minds were made, and plans soon followed. It didn’t exactly feel so good.

I arrived home a couple days later after a month on the road to meet my new housemate. His name, Oliver.

He was white, fluffy, and though he had just arrived hours earlier, Oliver seemed to have already made himself right at home.

[If you’re up with dog lingo, we’re pretty sure he’s a mini poodle meets bichon frise mix.]

My Dog Bro Oliver First Meeting

[And by the way, this shot is from the first day Oliver and I met and is the very first picture I took of him. Sometimes there’s value in going back and starting again from the beginning. It’s there where you can find things you might not expect, which you won’t find anywhere else.]

In the days between the gauntlet being laid down and my arrival back home, the narrative in my head went a little bit like this, “I’m not a dog person. I’ve never been a dog person. I’m not in favor of this arrangement. Why does my opinion not matter?”

And then, I decided to change my tune.

I love a special lady. She loves dogs. I’ve never had a dog before. Maybe I can love dogs too. What would happen if I turned my frown upside down, threw myself into the world of being a dog daddy, and chose to love him from the start?

And you know what? I made the change and did just that.

It’s amazing what you can do when you choose to change your attitude.

And you know what? The experience was incredible.

I grew to love the little guy. Oliver and I became bros. In fact, we had a surprising number of similarities, so much so that I feel like we have the same spirit, just different bodies.

We love people. We love to hang out. We both like to work from home. We find ways to easily amuse ourselves. We enjoy going running in the morning. We eat when we need to. We like to try new things. Explore new places. Bark infrequently – usually when we don’t get the chance or enough time to meet new people. And we both have a soft spot for the lady of the house.

My Dog Bro Oliver and Salimander

[Here’s a nice shot of Oliver amusing himself, playing catch with himself with his little friend the once-upon-a-time-was-stuffed salamander.]

Now, a common question I would get after sharing my story about Oliver:

“Wow, so are you a dog person now?”

My standard answer: I’m an Oliver person, though I’m not sure if I’m a dog person.

But here’s the thing. I might be a dog person. What if I am and never gave myself the chance when it mattered?

These days I’m much closer to knowing the answer because I said yes to a relationship with Oliver.

Yes to pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.

Yes to doing something I would not have done on my own, but am now so grateful to have had someone give me that initial push.

How do we know if something won’t work out if we’re not even willing to give it a go?

Oliver’s stay with us was 3 months, 90 days. Not short, but also not that long. And a lot can change in that amount of time. A lot did change.

With all the goodness he brought, it’s equally important to note that Oliver’s presence in our lives was not without its challenges.

Which got me to thinking, and what I realized about Oliver, about dogs, and about myself is that it’s not that I’m not a dog person, it’s that I’m an extreme people person.

Actually, some of my biggest fears came to light while living with Oliver.

There were a healthy amount of extra logistics involved, especially when headed anywhere away from New Haven, or the house, for more than a certain number of hours. He took up a fair amount of time that could have been focused elsewhere. At times we made choices that favored Oliver over people. And that, especially, was very hard for me.

However, there were some incredible benefits to having Oliver around.

First and foremost, we should start with the fact that I love him. I can’t help myself. And he loves me.

There is something about the love that a guy like Oliver can give that is so innocent and much less complicated than the love we sometimes exchange as humans.

What’s not to love about someone who is always happy to see you when you come home?

And that’s the biggest lesson Oliver taught me about being in a relationship.

There will always be tough times. There will always be logistics to work out. And life will not be perfect.

But with all the things we fight against on the outside, if we can come home at the end of the day and show unbridled love to the person that matters the most to us in the world, then we are going to completely change how they feel in that moment.

All of a sudden that day might just get a little better. For them. For you. Or me. For us.

Oliver changed my life.

Never could I have imagined that I would say this about a dog.

Never would I have thought I would be bros with a poodle.

Or even know that a bichon frise is a dog and not a type of cheese.

Or talk to a grandmother in the bus station on the day before Christmas about her third and fourth “grandchildren.” i.e. two dogs. Bentley is a Morkie (a maltese + yorkie aka yorkshire terrier) and Bailey is a Cavachon (half king charles terrier spaniel, half bichon frise).

But now when I see dogs, I see unconditional love. I see a relationship between two beings that matters and makes them both so happy. And what could be wrong with two beings choosing love, care, compassion, mutual interest and affection, … over the alternatives?

A dog is not what I wanted. It was not my ideal outcome.

But I had a choice to proactively participate. And I’m so glad that I did. And it became an ideal outcome.

Because, ultimately, Oliver pushed me out of my comfort zone, he got me thinking about someone other than myself, and he helped me on the road to be a better man.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my relationship with Oliver. A lot can change in 90 days. Sometimes, even more than you think.

Beyond just thinking about Oliver and his needs, it got me thinking about why someone special in my life would have such a love for dogs and animals in general.

Seeing how she would light up around Oliver. Seeing how much pleasure she took in taking care of him. It reminded me how wonderful she is at taking care of those she loves. How she’s such a great daughter and sister and aunt. Friend and colleague and boss. And teacher and mentor to her students. It also made me feel how wonderful she would be as a mother.

If you talk to a lot of pet owners or lovers, most of them have had a pet growing up. I’d be very curious to know how many who do not grow up with pets have pets as adults. My non-conclusive research to-date indicates few. It’s easy to be disinterested, and to say no, in these situations.

Besides, most of the time we say no to lots of things we don’t have experience with much more than we say yes, particularly when there is work involved.

But through this experience I was opened me up to this other side of myself. A side that loves animals too. All that work? It sure was worth it.

Though, along with that work, introspection and reflection helped me to realize how important it is to find the right balance with my human relationship needs too. But I believe that middle road is easily found, especially since now we know the why behind those feelings.

When it comes to the stuff that’s hard – the stuff that we’re afraid of, or perhaps just a bit concerned about – fear or concerns don’t mean, “No”, even though that’s often the first thing that comes out of our mouths.

Instead of an obstacle, we can look to these feelings and actions as more information. And given more information we have a better idea on how to work out any issues. Again, because we know the why. And that why helps us to make it happen.

When is your next chance to stay open-minded to something you think you’re so uncertain about?

Oliver was a catalyst for quite a bit of new thinking for me. He helped me to see a different side of others, as well as myself.

Who or what might be your Oliver?

And when it comes, will you not only open up your mind and say yes, but will you also open up your heart and share your love?

My Dog Bro Oliver and Me

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The photo immediately above is my favorite picture of Oliver and me. Ollie was never all that patient when it came to looking at the camera. Photo credit to a very talented photographer (AH).

The photo at the very top is a popular break time position for the little guy. As usual, he’s giving and sharing the love from a cozy and comfortable curled up position on the couch.

And when I was looking to find the spellings for all these dog breeds I have heard of, but never seen in writing, I came across this interesting article on the next generation “perfect” dog.

The Business of Relationships

JQA_With_Persevernce_Obstacles_Vanish

A friend recently lamented to me that she wished men could treat relationships like they would a business deal.

In business, is it common practice to talk nice with a potential business partner over the course of a few dates then vanish into thin air?

When you’re not interested in the deal, you’re honest and upfront about it. No need string anyone along.

Besides, stringing someone along in a business context, choosing to act without open and honest communication, could be bad for your reputation.

And future business.

The world is small, whose to say though today’s business deal didn’t work out, there isn’t an opportunity for other ways to collaborate down the line?

But my friend has encountered a number of guys who apparently aren’t in the business of open and honest communication.

What happened to meaningful cliches like honesty is the best policy? Or the truth will set you free?

I can’t blame her, though, in our relationships with the potential “one”, it’s easier to stick our heads in the sand or to run away than it is to be honest about how we feel and work through those challenges together.

I’ve done it. Actually, I’m a repeat offender.

This was actually what my 21 days of writing in November evolved into. It was the first time that I did not stick my head in the sand, or run away.

It was the first time I sat down with myself and faced my fears deep within myself for an extended period of time. It was not a one-off conversation, I made it my business for those three weeks. And I committed to making a habit of being vulnerable.

It was the first time I was able to be completely open and honest with the “one” about all my problems.

And trust me, I have a handful.

But as long as we’re being open and honest with each other, I know you do too. We all do.

I suppose the only thing that sets us apart are the people who are honest with themselves about their issues and those that aren’t.

But that’s too easy isn’t it?

Let’s step back for a second and re-think for a moment. How many types of us are there?

First, there’s the people who are honest with themselves AND with others about their issues. A rare breed.

I wonder how much of us actually reach this nirvanic level of self-awareness, self-understanding, and vulnerability?

Second, there’s the people who are honest with themselves, but may not be confident enough to share this with others.

Third, there are the people who know their issues, but may not have found all of them. Or maybe they have yet to realize just how those issues affect them.

This number three speaks most to me, that’s where I was earlier this year.

Fourth, there are the people who have figured themselves out, and everyone else out. It can be such a challenge to wait for others to figure themselves out. Life will be better when that happens.

Who did I miss?

So this friend of mine has been sending me these great articles on marriage that I’ve been totally digging.

The one that kept me up last night and has me still thinking today you can find here.

It’s an absolutely brilliant read, if you choose to read with an open mind.

Here’s the skinny (i.e. the first three reasons Why We Will Marry the Wrong Person):

One: We don’t understand ourselves

Two: We don’t understand other people

Three: We aren’t used to being happy

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

All of us are crazy in very particular ways. We’re distinctively neurotic, unbalanced and immature, but don’t know quite the details because no one ever encourages us too hard to find them out.

A good partnership is not so much one between two healthy people (there aren’t many of these on the planet), it’s one between two demented people who have had the skill or luck to find a non-threatening conscious accommodation between their relative insanities.

The problem is that knowledge of our own neuroses is not at all easy to come by. It can take years and situations we have had no experience of. Prior to marriage, we’re rarely involved in dynamics that properly hold up a mirror to our disturbances. Whenever more casual relationships threaten to reveal the ‘difficult’ side of our natures, we tend to blame the partner – and call it a day. As for our friends, they predictably don’t care enough about us to have any motive to probe our real selves. They only want a nice evening out. Therefore, we end up blind to the awkward sides of our natures.

One of the greatest privileges of being on one’s own is the flattering illusion that one is, in truth, really quite an easy person to live with.

With such a poor level of understanding of our characters, no wonder we aren’t in any position to know who we should be looking out for.

This problem is compounded because other people are stuck at the same low level of self-knowledge as we are. However well-meaning they might be, they too are in no position to grasp, let alone inform us, of what is wrong with them. Naturally, we make a stab at trying to know them. We go and visit their families, perhaps the place they first went to school. We look at photos, we meet their friends. All this contributes to a sense we’ve done our homework. But it’s like a novice pilot assuming they can fly after sending a paper plane successfully around the room.

If the title wasn’t enough to reel me in, then I can definitely confirm I was hooked after the first line. And I couldn’t stop reading after reading why we don’t understand ourselves – or others.

But, please, before you go any further with what I have here, please open this up in a new tab and read from start to finish.

I wish I could say that anything I write beyond this point could match the level of, “How We End Up Marrying the Wrong People.”

I regret that might not be possible.

But I won’t stop without trying.

This selection got me back to thinking about my friend, business, relationships with the “one”, and the business of relationships.

Having learned much of what I know in business much like how I’ve learned the most important lessons in life – trial by fire – I’ve come to know that before we get too far into the conversation, the best business deals I’ve done include an early conversation about all the bad stuff that can, might, and/or will happen.

Funny, in romantic relationships we don’t want to touch this topic with a 100 foot pole.

And why not hit these challenges head on?

Knowing what I know now, this is probably one of the most informative and intimate conversations you can have with a potential “one” and could do incredible things for mutual understanding and empathy with such a proactive approach to problem solving.

I’m having a hard time imagining a conversation that could be more meaningful.

Even if we are super self-aware and think of ourselves as highly empathetic, it’s a lot easier to express empathy when you have more information than less.

It’s also a lot easier to express empathy while calm, cool, and collected rather than under stress and duress.

This may come natural to some of us, but I’ve only been able to improve through preparation and practice.

So if you haven’t already, Read This. And share it with someone that matters to you. I’ve already shared it with my family.

And now I’m sharing it with you.

I’m curious, what do you think?

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And if you’re already tired from reading, take a look at the video below (4:00), it’s almost (or equally) as excellent.

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This was my first time on The Book of Life site. I’ll definitely be back for a return visit some day, sooner than later.

At first I had a different picture in mind, but then I got to thinking about vanishing. I came upon this quote by John Quincy Adams from this page on Pinterest that seemed to put a twist on the relationship between patience and perseverance,  disappearing and vanishing.

The running away model of vanishing cannot hold a candle to how difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish when one is patient and perseveres with what and whom matters most to them.

21 days of writing taught me that. And it’s remarkable how the difficulties and obstacles of yesterday almost no longer seem relevant, even exist.

Think I’m crazy? Give it a try yourself. A true, concentrated effort. You might surprise yourself. I know I did.